Behold the Dreamers asks: what would you do to obtain the American Dream? Compromise your values? Your health? Your family and your marriage?
The future looks bright for the Jonga family. Jende Jonga came to New York with a dream to make it in America. Back in Cameroon, his prospects were low and after marrying the mother of his child, he knew he had to provide more for them than he could there. His luck improved once he reached New York City. His cousin fixed him up with a job for a rich New York executive, Clark Edwards. With a good paying job, he sends for his wife, Neni and their son, Liomi, so they can start their lives together.
Neni wishes to become a pharmacist, and in New York she studies hard to reach her goal. She dreams of driving to her job in a big SUV and of having a luxurious American life. Life in Cameroon was difficult for her. Her father wouldn't let her marry her poor boyfriend. She was dependent on her father, who never let her forget it. She was stuck in her father's house, unable to start her real life with the man she loved. Now that she's in New York, she's determined to never go back to her old life and will do whatever it takes to stay in the US.
Jende becomes indispensable to Mr Edwards. Driving the man and his family around all day, he is privy to personal and company secrets, and he learns a lot about his employer. The Edwards life seems glamorous, but it doesn't take Jende long to realize appearances are deceiving. Soon the Edwards's are unable to keep up the facade as financial ruin comes to the US. With it, Jende's dream becomes a nightmare.
Behold the Dreamers is a twisty tale. Imbolo Mbue kept me wondering where this story was going to go. It had an almost Choose Your Own Adventure quality to it. Will Character X do this and what will be the consequences? The story could have gone in many directions. After the financial crash, the lives of the Jonga family take an almost Hardyesque turn. It seems like disaster upon disaster falls upon them. How they choose to respond to these hardships will determine whether or not they succeed in reaching their goals.
In the end, I was left pondering: is the American Dream really attainable for everyone? Imbolo Mbue doesn't answer that question. There are successes and failures throughout the novel. Just wanting it won't be enough. Optimism can quickly turn to pessimism. Circumstance, timing, luck, and privilege all have a hand in that success. The ending is rather open ended, but I liked that about it. Life is open ended. You never know what tomorrow will bring.
About the Audio: Prentice Onayemi narrates the audiobook. It was delightful to listen to him. I enjoyed his take on the accents. The Cameroonian characters were especially lovely to listen to.Thanks to Penguin Random House Audio for the review copy. All opinions are my own.